Be ready as hurricane season starts
Though this season isn’t expected to be as busy as last year’s above-average season, federal officials are warning coastal residents to start stocking up on hurricane supplies and forming evacuation plans anyway.
The season has already seen two named storms. Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the coast of South Carolina on May 19 and dissipated a few days later. And on Memorial Day, Tropical Storm Beryl came ashore near Jacksonville, Fla., dumping 10 inches of rain in some areas of north Florida.
Forecasters are calling for an average season, but cite uncertainty whether El Niño will appear.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s initial outlook for the six-month storm season predicts a normal number of about nine to 15 tropical storms, with as many as four to eight of those becoming hurricanes. One to three storms could become major hurricanes with top winds of 111 mph (178 kph) or higher.
Atmospheric and marine conditions indicating a high-activity era that began in 1995 for Atlantic hurricanes continue.
However, the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, which warms Pacific waters near the equator and increases wind shear over the Atlantic, may develop by the late summer or early fall and help suppress storm development.
“Our range (of expected storms) is a bit wider this year because of this inherent uncertainty right now based on the best guidance we have as to whether El Niño will form or not,” said Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The forecasting team at Colorado State University on Friday raised their outlook to 13 named storms, just above average.
Five of those storms may become hurricanes and two may develop into major systems, said the team, which pioneered long- range hurricane forecasting three decades ago. Its April prediction for 10 storms, four of them hurricanes and two of them major, was increased because an El Niño pattern hasn’t shown signs of forming yet.
“We have had a lot of uncertainty this season, it is a really, really tough call,” said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the study. “The real challenge with this year is that we are really uncertain about El Nino.”
Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs through Nov. 30.
Between 1981 and 2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
The 2011 hurricane season, one of the busiest on record with 19 named storms, produced Irene, one of the costliest storms in U.S. history.
Irene roared across Puerto Rico last September, the first hurricane to score a direct hit on the island since Georges in 1998.
Irene killed at least 47 in the U.S. and at least eight more in the Caribbean and Canada as it followed a rare path up the Eastern seaboard from North Carolina, across the Mid-Atlantic and near New York City.
NOAA forecasters use new model
U.S. forecasters say a new statistical model will help determine a hurricane’s strength and size as the official 2012 Atlantic hurricane season gets under way.
NOAA said the new model will help predict the start of eyewall replacement cycles that can cause sudden dramatic changes in a hurricane.
NOAA scientist Jim Kossin, who led the effort to create the model, said skillful forecasting of the natural cycles is crucial to protecting life and property.
“As it was approaching New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina weakened but grew in size because of an eyewall replacement cycle and the huge wind field led to an enormous storm surge that devastated the Gulf Coast,” Kossin said in a statement.
The model uses data from NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites to identify hurricane structure patterns related to eyewall replacement cycles. Microwave images from NOAA polar orbiting satellites were incorporated extensively to create the model using past data, the agency said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane preparedness checklist:
― Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
― Know your surroundings.
― Learn the elevation level of your property and whether the land is flood-prone. This will help you know how your property will be affected when storm surge or tidal flooding are forecasted.
― Identify levees and dams in your area and determine whether they pose a hazard to you.
― Learn community hurricane evacuation routes and how to find higher ground. Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.
― Make plans to secure your property: